Another October

This wasn’t the beginning. The beginning had been months ago, and though exactly when the line was crossed from nothing to beginning was blurred, it no longer mattered. Another line would be crossed today, and I knew it.

My heart pounded as I walked up the jetway, as if stepping off of it and into the airport were somehow momentous. I’d stepped off dozens of jetways into dozens of airports. This needn’t be any different. Crossing the threshold into the airport, my boots carried me with long, confident strides. I kept my head up, following the signs to baggage claim, the rapid click of my heels matching the rhythm of the blood pulsing in my brain.

I was at the top of the escalator when I saw him below. His back was to me, his eyes apparently scanning the crowds for a woman. For me. He wasn’t pacing, but he wasn’t still. I watched as he shifted from one foot to the other. The escalator seemed achingly slow, and as I came to the bottom, I nearly leaped, avoiding catching the high heels of my boots.

I quickened my pace, and it almost seemed as if the floor were moving, gliding him ever closer to me, his back still turned. He must have heard my frantic approach, because he turned to face me just as I heard my own voice saying, “Looking for me?”

As soon as his eyes caught mine, it was too late. I knew those boot strides had brought me firmly, confidently, inexorably into a trap. As I felt its jaws close around me, I gave up any pretense that I would ever escape.

12:36AM, Christmas Day. Santa has been and gone, and once again my stocking is slightly less lumpy than the children’s stockings hanging next to it. It’s all right, because I don’t need toys or trinkets; the fat orange and fatter candy cane will be fine enough for me. I won’t eat the candy cane anyway. I think Santa leaves it there just for show.

There is no snow, nor any clouds tonight. The sky is blue-black and clear. I can see Orion’s Belt and the Big Dipper. I know those same stars burn tonight above a faraway place I once knew well, and I wonder if he knows. If he can see them too. I search the sky fruitlessly for a sign of Rudolph’s shiny red nose, as fruitlessly as I wait for good wishes that never come. The silence in the night air echoes as loudly as the silence I’ve felt all day. My heart wonders if it will always be this way.

Inside, a nearly empty wine glass sits at my elbow. Tinsel on the tree reflects colored lights, bouncing colored twinkles off the glass. I consider only briefly refilling the glass, draining the last of the wine before reluctantly resealing the bottle.

The stairs wait for me to climb them, and I am suddenly tired.

“Merry Christmas,” I whisper to the lights.

And to all a good night.


It was warm, that early morning August air, sultry and heavy, promising later to be oppressive and damp and stifling.  The carport was still and quiet, looking out on unmoving trees and withered grass and an unblinking sun.

It was our second day here, an unexpected weekend stranded when the car had refused to start the day before. I sat in a patio chair clad in a borrowed robe. He stood, pacing and smoking, unfathomable depths behind eyes that had never hidden from me before. His hair had grown longer in the three months since I’d seen him, but that wasn’t all that had changed. I watched him pace and knew without asking that something far worse was troubling him than his car’s betrayal. We’d be here another day before we could head back to the city, and the question wasn’t if we’d make it in time, only when or perhaps how.

I voiced only one of my thoughts that tentatively lazy Sunday morning. Under different circumstances, this could have been, would have been, an ideal weekend getaway. I told him I thought so, and he agreed. It could have been. Later, alone with my thoughts, I’d replay a thousand times what could have been.

I thought about the panic the night before, when I couldn’t sleep, the stark fear that had stopped my breath. Inside I had screamed. I wanted to tell him my anguish wasn’t that we wouldn’t make it back in time to make the flight that would await me the next evening. My fears centered around something darker, something unspoken that had put a wall between us. I couldn’t tell him I worried not that I would miss the flight, but that I would make the flight. I knew, somewhere in the deepest part of me I couldn’t face, that if I got on that plane, I would never return. If I left the next day, there would be no coming back.

If I didn’t tell him what I knew to be true, maybe it wouldn’t be the truth at all.

He turned his back as I watched him, looking out over the fence for another minute, maybe three. When he came back to me, he reached out his hand for mine, pulling me from the patio chair. I breathed deeply that languorous humid air, filling my lungs, holding it as long as I could. I went into his arms, his hand still fitted over mine as if it belonged there, allowing myself a small moment to think, “Don’t let me go.” When his eyes caught my own, I opened my mouth to speak, losing the words before I could say them.

It was a wall I couldn’t scale.

We were stranded.  And nothing again would ever be the same.

The sun is deceptive. It’s not warm at all, though the wind isn’t as brutally unforgiving as it was last night.  It looks pretty outside, but all the tables are empty. In another month or so, I speculate, they will be full. I can almost see the people who will use them, laughing, smiling, enjoying their companions. I promise myself I will sit there one day too.

It’s just chilly enough inside, next to the window, that I leave my jacket on. I’m unsatisfiably hungry, and this smells good.  Before I take a bite of my own sandwich, I watch him, and he catches me. He smiles; he knows what my eyes are telling him, and right now I’m very happy it’s Thursday. In a few days, we’ll drive around the city looking at everything and nothing in particular, and I’ll be happy then too. But right now I don’t know that, and Thursday is just about the happiest day I can think of thus far.

Even though I’m not quite warm enough, I’m sure I could sit here forever and be content. I like the way he looks in his jacket. I like the way his hair is just a little too long, and I stifle an urge to reach across the table to brush a lock of it off his forehead. He sees me looking at him again and smiles again. I thank him for bringing me here, because it’s been four months since I’ve had a lunch this good, and I want to feel this way forever.

We eat and we talk, thinking of things to do today. When he says something funny, I laugh, and not because I have to. Simply because the sound of his voice is enough to bring me joy, and when he’s funny it lights us both up from the inside out. This is what happiness feels like.

We get up to leave, and I carry half of my sandwich with me, wrapped carefully in wax paper. He opens the door and takes my hand as we head out into the sunlight, and suddenly I don’t feel quite so chilly anymore.


Seat 3A

It was a sprawling city, brightly lit against the dark blue dusk. It was alive and breathing just below me, then further and further as we climbed higher into the night sky. I watched, my forehead pressed to the window, as the lights grew smaller and dimmer and that beautiful city was left behind. I craned my neck, looking back, until we drew into the clouds and fog and I could no longer see the ground beneath. My heart was still tethered there,  like some lost balloon fastened by an invisible string.

I could still see his face as he stood next to me, both past and future reflected in his eyes. Those eyes stayed with me, and I closed my own, willing the image not to fade. I could still feel his hand on mine, his touch, the warmth of the imprint lingering as I put my pen to paper. I wanted nothing so much as to stay; instead, the skies rapidly gave way beneath the wings. I held my breath to capture the scent, and in that single moment, I knew I would never really leave.


The days don’t feel like October.  They are warm still; hot, really. The mid-afternoons are as hot as early July, but there is no lazy July languor to them now. The shadows lengthen much earlier; the sun drops beyond the horizon with startling suddenness.

Even as the summer-like heat gives way to blessedly cool evenings, I am counting,  marking off early October days that seem to pass more slowly than any October days before them.

I am waiting. Waiting miles and days, hours and minutes. I am watching out the front window, the same window I have looked from countless times. Soon the leaves will change, and I don’t mind, because each whispered hint of October breeze brings me closer, in time if not distance.

An October-orange cat watches lazily too, tail swishing, seeing what I can’t see. His eyes and thoughts are unreadable, but when he casts a glance at me, I know he can read mine. He jumps from his perch on the windowsill. As he runs from the room he stops, turning to me as if beckoning me to follow.

The sun sinks, turning late afternoon once more to early evening.


I wondered about it long after. I remembered it years later, a portion of a day, a snippet of the night.

It was September, late summer,  time for Teresa’s annual pool party for her birthday. I’d been attending Teresa’s birthday parties since we were in first grade and now we were in high school. I don’t know how many of us had been there – at least a couple dozen kids shouting and laughing, eating, jumping into and out of the pool, throwing towels, playing the music too loud for Teresa’s father, who occasionally grumped through the backyard smoking a cigar.

Some of the boys liked to dump girls into the pool, whether we’d changed into our bathing suits or not. I’d been one of them, soaked to the skin in my jeans. “It’s okay,” Teresa said when I climbed out, dripping. “My mom will dry your clothes for you,” and then I changed into a swimsuit and rubbed the water from my hair.

When the sun threatened to go down, we girls crammed ourselves into Teresa’s room, sharing hair dryers and curling irons, coating our eyes with thick mascara and blue eyeliner. “Got your jeans done,” Teresa said, tossing them at me. “But your shirt is still out on the deck.”

I borrowed an extra top from Brenda. I didn’t know Brenda, but she was the sister of a boy from another school Teresa had dated once before, and she seemed okay. She’d brought several outfits with her, deciding what to wear at the last minute.

She gave me a cropped black top with a tropical print and a collar that stayed up when I flipped it. I wiggled my legs into the fresh-from-the-dryer jeans and leaned flat up against the wall to zip them.

“God, you’re tiny,” Brenda said. I couldn’t decide if she thought that was good or bad. “Those jeans might fit on one of my legs.”

We piled into cars, squeezing as many as would fit into too small a space, girls on boys’ laps, and raced off in a caravan to continue the birthday party at the roller rink.

Multi-colored pulsing lights blinked on and off over the skaters. A shallow light illuminated the skate counter, where those of us not fortunate enough to have our own skates had to rent a pair for seventy-five cents. Everywhere else was dark, crowded. The air was thick with humidity, sweat, cologne, cigarettes. I deliberately walked past the skate counter toward the snack bar and slid into a booth right next to the rink. I idly watched the skaters, the walkers, the sitters, the bodies pressed against the wall and behind the empty coat racks.

“Hey!” Two other girls from the party threw themselves into the booth, both slurping from paper soda cups and crunching crushed ice. One was Brenda. The other was a girl from her school, a stranger to me.

“Hey,” I said.

“You’re not skating.”

“No. You’re not either.”

They giggled. “Rather look at guys,” Brenda’s friend said, demonstrating by craning her neck over the crowds. Suddenly she looked straight at me. She slurped the last of the crushed ice from her cup and carelessly tossed it aside. Eyes still on my face, she pulled a stick of gum from her purse and popped it into her mouth.

“I could read your fortune,” she offered. The gum cracked and snapped on each syllable. Her gaze made me uncomfortable, as if she could see through me into something I didn’t understand.

“My fortune?”

“Stacy reads palms,” said Brenda. “And tarot cards.”

“Come on. Want me to?” Stacy asked.

“I guess so, but -” Before I could finish, she had grabbed my right hand, turned it face up on the table. She traced the lines with her fingers. I wondered silently if I should have offered my dominant hand, the left one.

“You’ll have lots of romance,” she began, and Brenda giggled. Stacy glared.

“Lots of romance,” she said again, her finger on my palm. “But you won’t find love until late in life.”

“Late in life?” I asked. “What does that mean?”

“I can’t say for sure. It might mean you’ll find the love of your life when you’re twenty-one and die when you’re twenty-two.”

I shuddered, started to pull my hand away. She pulled it back.

“Don’t worry. It might mean you won’t find love until you’re fifty.”  The way she said it, gum snapping and cracking, careless of my feelings, left me feeling vaguely exposed.

“You’ll have one child when you are very young.”

“So I won’t have love until late in life, but I’ll have a baby when I’m young?”

“I said you’d have romances. Let me finish.” She searched my hand again. “One child when you are very young. Maybe before you get out of high school. How old are you now?”


“You won’t get married first.”

I pulled my hand away. “I’ll either fall in love when I’m too old to enjoy it or die when I’m twenty-two. And I’ll have a baby but not be married. Don’t you see anything good?”

“Anything can be good if you let it.” Her curious stare fixed me again, and I looked away, unwilling to see what was reflected in her strange eyes.

Stacey stood abruptly and walked away from the table, leaving Brenda behind.

“She read me too,” Brenda remarked. “She said I have a strong lifeline and a very strong loveline.” She glanced around her at the sea of people moving in and out, and I felt the floor beneath my feet throb as the music got louder.

“If I have such a strong loveline,” Brenda continued, chewing on the end of the straw in her soda cup,  “I wish some guy would come along now and prove it.”

“I don’t think I like what she told me.”

“Forget it. I don’t know if she knows what she’s talking about anyway.”

“I’m left-handed. If she read my left hand, would it have been any different?”

Brenda looked at me strangely. “How would I know? Don’t let it get to you.”

She stood suddenly and disappeared into the throng and the darkness, the haze of smoke and sweat obscuring her from view almost instantly. I held my breath for a long moment, and in that moment the world slowed and stopped, the pulsing lights, the music, the crowd; all I heard was the thump of my own heartbeat and the blood in my head.

When I breathed again, the world began to move again, faster and louder than before. More bodies flung themselves into my booth. I heard shouts and laughter cross the room, was offered a soda, half a hot dog, some hot tamales.

I didn’t see Brenda or her friend again. Some weeks later I returned the borrowed tropical-print shirt  to Teresa, carefully washed and ironed, and she promised to see that Brenda would get it. I continued to go to Teresa’s parties until the year we turned twenty, and then there weren’t any more.

My hands don’t seem much different to me now than they did nearly thirty years ago, but in all those years, I’ve never again let anyone read them.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.